CHARLOTTE (AFP/REUTERS) - Justin Thomas made two spectacular birdies in the final six holes on Sunday to win the PGA Championship, the 14th-ranked American taking his first Major title in a back-nine shootout thriller.
On a day that saw five players share the lead at one stage, Thomas fired a three-under 68 to finish 72 holes on eight-under 276 for a two-stroke victory over South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen (70), Italy's Francesco Molinari (67) and American Patrick Reed (67).
Hideki Matsuyama, seeking to become the first man from Japan to win a Major, held the lead briefly mid-round before fading with three consecutive bogeys from the 11th. He carded 72 and finished three shots behind with American Rickie Fowler (67).
"The course played tough. The pins were receptive, though. I was just disappointed the way I played," Matsuyama said. "The last Major of the year, and I was in contention. All I can do is just try harder next time."
Overnight leader Kevin Kisner (74) finished four shots back with Canada's Graham DeLaet (69).
"I knew no matter what my game was at, I had to be patient," Thomas said. "I knew I had the game to get it done. I just had to put it out there."
Thomas vaulted to the front with four birdies in a sizzling seven-hole stretch mid-round. This included an amazing 40-foot chip shot at the par-three 13th for a two-stroke lead and a curling 14-foot putt into the left side of the cup to birdie the par-three 17th. "To make a birdie there was beyond a bonus," Thomas said of No. 17. "And No. 13 was really special as well."
The 24-year-old from Kentucky's bogey at the last was academic.
Thomas claimed the Wanamaker Trophy and grabs the top prize of US$1.89 million (S$2.57 million) for his fourth victory of the season after last year's CIMB Classic in Malaysia and two January events in Hawaii, the Tournament of Champions and Sony Open.
One of the longest drivers on tour, he had come into the final Major of the year ranked 14th in the world, though not one of the favourites after recent poor form.
But he came through by executing under pressure as some of his rivals withered, joining his good friend Jordan Spieth, with whom he shared a house at the British Open last month, in the Major champions club of 2017.
Thomas also joins Spaniard Sergio Garcia (Masters), American Brooks Koepka (US Open) and Spieth (British Open) as the year's Major champions.
The PGA Championship is known for bringing first-time Major success. Except for Rory McIlroy, the 2012 and 2014 champion, every PGA Championship winner since 2008 has been a first-time Major trophy holder.
McIlroy fired a 68 to finish on 285, sharing 22nd, and said after his round that he had been nagged by back spasms and might not play again this season.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said. "You might not see me until next year. You might see me in a couple of weeks time. It really depends.